Icon IGA in the red

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Ritchies headquarters has confirmed the closure of its much-loved Pakenham IGA store due to falling sales and competition pressure, putting months of rumours to rest.

A grand sale is to begin from Monday 22 August, with final stock expected to clear within two to three days.

Loyal customers of Pakenham’s oldest supermarket site were “very disappointed” to hear of another independent grocery store closing its doors on Monday 8 August.

The Main Street corner store has been home to a grocery store for close to a century, having opened as the McAfee Brothers in 1925 prior to becoming the Robinson’s SSW in the ’50s and was temporarily run by Safeway for a couple of years in the early ’80s before being taken over by Ritchies.

Pakenham resident and loyal customer Susan Johns said she would travel to IGA’s Narre Warren store to source products for this year’s Cardinia community Christmas lunch.

“For the free Christmas lunch, IGA has for many years been our only source to acquire all the products. This was always done with ease for the volunteers for this lunch because we just provided a list with numbers and they would do the rest,” Ms Johns said.

“Organising and co-ordinating an event like that is not easy, especially for Christmas, and this made all the difference. Even last year Sam – one of the Ritchies employees – dressed up as Santa.

“Nothing was ever too much trouble for them and they also provided for the community with a benefits card. There is nowhere else in Pakenham that does this. The other supermarkets are too big, and I believe would not take the time and care to assist the community.

“I would hope perhaps in time that IGA could maybe obtain a bigger store and return to Pakenham.”

Ritchies chief Fred Harrison said he had not disregarded the idea of possibly returning to Pakenham at another site in the future.

“I’ll never say never. There may be an opportunity for Ritchies to return to Pakenham at another site in years to come. But it’s not ideal to close in a town and then re-resurrect,” Harrison said.

“We’ve been trading at a loss, and we’ve absorbed those losses across the Ritchies network for the past three to four years. But it’s not sustainable. Part of it might be because the store is too small to give a comparable range of products to Coles or Woolies that are four times the size.

“We’ve had great loyalty from the public in Pakenham. We really value and respect their patronage. I genuinely feel sorry and disappointed for our loyal customers.

“But we wouldn’t be closing down if we hadn’t lost customers. It got to a point where the business was no longer viable to continue operating.”

Mr Harrison said that head office confirmation of the store’s closure had been delayed due to a third party expressing interest “at the eleventh hour” in buying the shop and continuing to operate a grocery store on its site.

Despite circulating rumours since word had got out of IGA’s closure in Pakenham, Mr Harrison confirmed that at no point had Ritchies been in discussions with competitor Aldi over the site’s future.

“If this other player had followed through, IGA might not have closed. It would have just been run under a different operator. But it didn’t go ahead,” he said.

“It is no longer in our hands, but at the moment I think the site would make the perfect Aldi footprint.”

Mr Harrison congratulated the Pakenham staff for their hard work, recognising that they persevered with a high workload despite sales continuing to fall.

He said the “vast majority“ of staff had been re-issued jobs within the Ritchies network.

“There’s so much new competition moving in and around the area and, for whatever reason, our sales have declined significantly over the past three to four years,” Mr Harrison said.

“I’d like to thank all customers past and present. It’s a sad day. We’re not happy. But the customer numbers have been falling each week and we’ve got to take that on board.

“The fact that it’s survived 25 years is a good news story and it’s been a long journey.”

Ritchies IGA also recently closed its Berwick store, but is currently in the process of obtaining 15 stores in north-west Victoria.

Originally published at Pakenham Gazette.

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About Alana Mitchelson

Alana Mitchelson is a journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Follow her on Twitter at @AlanaMitchelson.

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